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Racing legend A.J . Foyt returns to Daytona for Rolex 24
Related: History of NASCAR drivers in Rolex 24 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The great A.J . Foyt arrived at Daytona International Speedway Friday afternoon to join NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray in donating some memorabilia to the highly refurbished track. Fans who gathered for the weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona did double takes as two of the speedway's most decorated drivers walked through the concourse and prepared to donate keepsakes to be a part of the $400 million Daytona renovation debuting for the event. The 2010 Daytona 500 winner McMurray talked, laughed and walked with the legend Foyt to a stage located inside the grandstands and adjacent to the checkered start/finish line. "Versus any other race track in the world, it's unbelieveable," McMurray said of the track before revealing a large glass trophy case displaying McMurray's race-winning Daytona 500 checkered flag and racing shoes from last year's Rolex 24 victory -- all to be on display in the facility's new concourse. But while Friday's event was clearly intended to publicize the speedway's makeover, the 81-year old Foyt commanded a presence all his own. Still walking with a limp after recovering from an extensive hospitalization and knee surgery last year, the Texan was very complimentary of the track's new look. He will wave the green flag to start Saturday's twice-around-the-clock race. "Just glad to be back; the Frances have always been so good to me and I don't know of another speedway in the world that's this nice and this beautiful," the 1972 Daytona 500 winner said. Foyt was clearly feeling good and glad to be back at a racetrack after missing the end of the 2015 IndyCar season dealing with health issues. Most evident, was his fondness for this particular track. "I made up my mind I wasn't going to walk with no cane. … you don't realize at 81 years old you'd have to learn to walk again," he said, smiling. "I'm getting there. Every day is a better day for me." Foyt enjoyed answering a few questions from the gathered reporters Friday afternoon, laughing, making jokes and sharing heartfelt responses. He still fondly recalled his first start in the Rolex 24 in 1964 -- he led the event's first lap in what was then called the Daytona Continental -- and how his father, who Foyt said "lay dying in a hospital" at the time, insisted he race in it instead of worriedly waiting in a hospital room. "Daddy kind of got mad at me and said, 'why don't you go down there and have some fun,' " Foyt recalled with a smile. The Texan didn't win that year, but returned to win the Rolex twice in 1983 and 1985. Foyt's health was a recurring topic and there was clearly a lot of interest in the living legend. Smilingly obliging, the Texan relived his recent hospital stay and release. "When I came to (the hospital), I kept playing with them," Foyt said smiling. "I'm about 99.9 percent healed up now. They kept telling me, 'two months, two months' and I looked at my doctor and said that 'two months has just about been a year.' "It's been good though. I can't holler about my life. I've had a wonderful life and raced about everywhere I could and won my share, and lost my share." And as the pauses grew and the questions dwindled, Foyt was asked if there was anything he would have done differently throughout his celebrated life. "I wouldn’t change nothing," he said and flashed a brilliant grin.
Cain: Bigger and more memorable at Texas
RELATED: Gallery of memorable moments at Texas " Full weekend schedule FORT WORTH -- From track "weepers" and multicar inaugural-lap pileups to a winner's circle confrontation between two Indianapolis 500 champs, Texas Motor Speedway has been the site of some of the most remarkable, memorable and bizarre story lines of any circuit on the NASCAR circuit. The 1.5-mile oval outside Fort Worth celebrates its 20th year hosting a NASCAR race this week with Saturday night's Duck Commander 500 (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.) And for those of us around at the very beginning, it seems a fitting time to reminisce a bit about the facility's famously storied early history. As they like to remind you in Texas, everything is "bigger" there. And it has been. The track's early trials and tribulations have only contributed to its great character and esteem. In my 25 years of sports journalism, the opening races at Texas Motor Speedway still remain among the most unforgettable times of my career. Never before and never since have I covered a specific beat that provided as much sensation, controversy and must-see-TV as TMS in the early years. Two decades later, the track located at the intersection of an interstate and two major Texas highways has evolved into one of the sport's most prestigious venues. It boasts the largest HD screen, named "Big Hoss," fantastic spectator seating and the most condominiums of any track on the circuit. Plus really great racing. Nearly 195,000 people showed up for the inaugural Texas race in 1997 and most of those who were ticket holders then still are, two decades later proving they are as faithful and optimistic as they were devoted. It turns out those have been good traits for this endeavor. MORE: Paint scheme preview for Texas I had just started work at The Dallas Morning News newspaper in the spring of 1997 a few weeks after Jeff Burton took the checkered flag for NASCAR's first Cup series race at Texas in April. The new facility was considered the "home track" to cover. After reporting on the Indianapolis 500 in May, I was immediately back home in Dallas, ready for the Indy Racing League's night-time debut at TMS the next week. There, a 26-year old future three-time NASCAR Cup champion Tony Stewart put on an open-wheel show for the ages, racing wheel-to-wheel lap-after-lap with Buddy Lazier. Stewart -- who went on to win two Cup races at Texas (2006 and 2011) -- led a race-high 100 of the 208 laps only to suffer an engine failure that night. But toward the end of the race there were questions regarding the scoring shown on the monitor in the press box. And soon after making my way down to the infield to prepare for a super-tight Saturday night newspaper deadline, the real craziness began. While trying to get post-race quotes from the apparent first-time winner Billy Boat ( XFINITY Series driver Chad's dad) and Boat's team owner, Texan A.J . Foyt , I was standing a few feet away when driver Arie Luyendyk confronted Foyt in Victory Lane. After questioning the results, challenging Foyt and suggesting he was actually the legitimate race winner, Luyendyk tumbled into the victory flowers. Boat and Foyt hoisted the trophy. It was surreal. I was on a crazy tight deadline. But the next day in a hastily called press conference, Luyendyk was declared the winner after USAC conceded a scoring error. After USAC officials suggested problems with the track's scoring system, TMS President Eddie Gossage took the press conference podium and strongly reminded that the speedway wasn't responsible for the scoring. "I got home at 3 in the morning knowing we gave the trophy to the wrong winner and had a press conference for 8 in the morning," said Gossage. "I go in to the press conference with two hours of sleep and I'm sitting in the back row and the head scorer for USAC says that the speedway's timing and scoring equipment didn't work. "He says it again and then a third time so I just walked up on stage and stepped up to the podium and eased him to the side and said, " Texas Motor Speedway doesn't own a stop watch. ... People have a right to know when they leave the race track who the winner is and we all didn't get what we paid for." Then after a dramatic exit and door slam, Gossage recalls, "My dad called from Tennessee and said, 'You were raised better, acting like an idiot on television for all the world to see, embarrassing me and your mom.' I said, 'What?' He said, 'You didn't know it was live on ESPN?' "I didn't. And then I was like, 'You're right, sir. I'm sorry. I know better.' " Gossage has a good laugh recalling the whole ordeal now. Foyt , who still disputes the result, kept the trophy and Luyendyk was given another one. A year later, Boat recalled of the evening, "We went into Victory Circle knowing nothing about a scoring error, only that someone was talking derogatory about our race team. You don't do that in a big Texan's Victory Circle." Luyendyk, of Holland, said the incident -- replayed repeatedly all over the world at the time -- actually made him and the Texas Motor Speedway more famous overseas. MORE: Gossage and drivers try to draw state of Texas And then in 1998 came NASCAR's second Cup try. After two multi-car accidents in the inaugural race, conventional wisdom promised this one just had to go down more smoothly. NASCAR's biggest stars such as Rusty Wallace, Ernie Irvan, Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin were among those who crashed in the opening race. Darrell Waltrip finished last after being involved in a 13-car wreck on the very first turn of the very first lap of Cup competition there. And Burton ended up winning by 4 seconds. Surely, everyone figured, the second race would be smoother. It wasn't. "Weepers" became a familiar word. The water seeping through the track caused qualifying to be completed a day late. And of all things, there was a huge 10-car accident on the second lap of the race. Jeff Gordon and yes, Waltrip, were collected in that melee. Mark Martin won the race by a half-second over Chad Little and Robert Pressley. Shortly after, TMS went through a re-paving and re-fitting, track owner Bruton Smith and Gossage committed to correction. "The first year it was just terrible and everything seemed to go wrong," Gossage conceded this week. "And the second year, obviously you try to improve so all of a sudden here's these weepers that came through. "I remember driving into the infield and in the rearview mirror saw Lake Speed knock the wall down in Turn 1 in qualifying. I thought, 'Oh no.' "I'm always the worst critic," Gossage said, logging the long hours readying for the weekend's big events. "There are things other people might not have noticed but I did. For some reason things worked really well in 1999 when Terry Labonte won and it's been better since then. That's the way a race weekend was supposed to go." Not only has it been better, it's typically a discussion point in every season review. In 2005, Texas finally got the second date it had longed for since I worked at the Dallas paper nearly a decade earlier. And the facility -- big enough to fit every Texas sporting stadium in its infield -- is also a big-time player in the Chase for the Sprint Cup . It's still providing those jaw-dropping, television highlight moments seemingly born with the track. Dale Earnhardt Jr . scored his first Cup win at TMS in April 2000. And Chase Elliott got his first XFINITY Series win here in 2014 driving for Junior at JR Motorsports. Gordon, who won this race in 2009, has starred in a couple TMS highlight reels, too. He was involved in a pair of high profile skirmishes from taking on Burton on-track after a wreck in 2010 to a crazy pit road scuffle with Brad Keselowski in 2014. "You have to be honest," Gossage said. "And looking back, it's just how things occurred. I wouldn't trade any of it, if it is what got us where we are. I'll take where we stand in our success as the most successful major market speedway in the history of this sport. I'll take that. "I won't trade my job with the guy running any other race track because I'm just so proud of what's been accomplished here."
Daytona rises even higher from beach sand
RELATED: Daytona through the years " Full Speedweeks schedule DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Lesa France Kennedy and her uncle Jim France clutched a giant pair of scissors and officially cut the ribbon inside the new-look, re-imagined Daytona International Speedway last month, flashing wide smiles and knowing eyes. When these same International Speedway Corporation executives first broke ground on the $400 million Daytona Rising project more than two years ago, Kennedy promised, "We are truly creating history with this unprecedented endeavor." So even as she and France took their positions and prepared for the ceremonial dedication, the pair couldn't contain their excitement -- it was palpable as they continually stole glimpses across the vast new open-air concourse, out to the track below and even toward the famous beach in the distance where Jim's father and Lesa's grandfather Bill France Sr.'s stock car racing idea first flourished 60 years ago. It was ironic that the actual ribbon cutting on the facility occurred on a rare breezy, rainy, chilly day in Daytona Beach, because the people who attended were joyful and oblivious to the weather. Huge crowds line the dunes to watch Daytona racing in 1949 There was history to make. The Daytona Rising project has been touted as a "re-imagining," and its finished look is nothing short of transformative. Even the new nomenclature of the speedway sounds impressive -- from its "injectors" outside to its "neighborhoods" inside. Previous modifications to the track have been for the thrill of competition and the safety of the racers. This massive investment is foremost for the comfort and pleasure of the loyal fans, and it will be evident this week as people begin arriving for NASCAR's season-opening events at Daytona Speedweeks, which culminate with the Feb. 21 Daytona 500 . RELATED: Buy tickets for the race Evolution from race track to racing's first sporting stadium is not unlike moving the course from its origins at the beach to a sprawling remarkable speedway. It is the third version of high-end Daytona stock car racing. "I don't know of another speedway in the world that's this nice and this beautiful," racing legend A.J . Foyt declared at the track's Rolex 24 debut the last week of January. And that's high praise for a structure that is simultaneously imposing and inspiring from a racer known and appreciated for his grit and honesty. The Chevrolet Injector at Daytona International Speedway NASCAR team owner Chip Ganassi was in complete agreement with Foyt . "When you first hear they spent $400 million, and you go see the work that's been done, stand on pit lane and look at the grandstand, it looks like $800 million," Ganassi said. "It's really, really something really first class and I think it's going to take our sport to a new level for what fans expect. "This is going to be the Ritz-Carlton of race tracks, there are so many amenities. I couldn't be happier for our fans and what it's going to do for our sport." WATCH: Daytona rises in time lapse video The smiles, the wide-eyes, the enthusiasm that has been brimming under the surface has been notable since this project began more than two years ago. Everyone from the car manufacturers to longtime racing sponsors have gladly joined in the effort. Chevrolet, one of the original and primary corporate sponsors of the new-look speedway, has been eager to support modernization of the facility, recognizing the benefits of balancing modern updates with historic importance. "Chevrolet's commitment to racing originated more than a century ago with Louis Chevrolet and remains strong today as we solidify our presence at the 'World Center of Racing,' " President of General Motors North America Alan Batey said when announcing the company's partnership with Daytona. And for all the attention paid to historic detail, fans will also undoubtedly notice the refined façade outside and appreciate the refinements inside, from larger, more comfortable seating to high-tech huge screens and WiFi availability to the most escalators (40) and newly refurbished restrooms (1,891) of any sports stadium in the country. Artwork in the Sunoco Injector at Daytona International Speedway WATCH: Joey Chitwood III excited to unveil speedway additions Toyota joins Chevrolet as an "injector" sponsor and was actually the first to formally announce its partnership with the new Daytona project more than two years ago. The two manufacturers' efforts at creating welcoming, interesting and exciting interactive elements at the track offer a glimpse of how a far-reaching a corporate plan can be. Creativity is the theme throughout the facility with each of the corporate-sponsored injector entrances from Toyota to Chervolet and from Sunoco to Florida Hospital providing an extensive and interactive "experience" for fans. "Philosophically, I think it demonstrates our commitment to motorsports in general and NASCAR in particular, and like anyone else, we're always looking for a way to engage the fans in a meaningful way," said Toyota's Keith Dahl, general manager for motorsports and asset management for Toyota Motor Sales USA. The Toyota Injector at Daytona International Speedway The bigger-than-life Toyota logo that greets Daytona fans at its injector entrance is the largest commercial logo in the United States, according to Dahl. And the company's historic relationship with NASCAR is immediately evident feet away with five full-size Toyota race car replicas representing the Sprint Cup Series' Camrys fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing , and this year's new addition, Furniture Row Racing . Take the escalator up 35 feet to the main concourse and fans are greeted by the reigning Sprint Cup Series championship No. 18 Toyota similar to the one driven by champion Kyle Busch -- a replica so precise it's adorned with both celebratory confetti and bumper-rubbing scrapes. A Sprint Cup trophy sits encased alongside. The massive concourse called a "neighborhood" is 100,000 square feet and there is a common and connecting theme along the Toyota area -- photos and stories of the company's workers -- from car sales associates to manufacturing plant workers to race shop mechanics. A massive "touchscreen wall" made of eight big screens features humble stories and real-life profiles from the company's employees. The headline "From American Factories to American Roads" greets fans and reminds them of the company's commitment to the ultimate of American sports, stock car racing. And vice versa. "Obviously, as time went by more and more effort got put into this," Dahl said. "We literally would have meetings and throw some ideas out there. I know it's cliché to say it's a 'blank canvas,' but it really is. There are a lot of ideas we wanted to try. "This was a chance to try some things. And what you see today, I would hope is not what you would see in perpetuity. We want to keep things vibrant and relative. We'll have different things going on." For example, the refreshment area in each injector is similar but uniquely decorated. In Toyota's version, there are seats refurbished and retained from the speedway's former grandstands. Toyota Tundra truck tailgates were made into benches for many of the tables. As you walk along the massive concourse, Toyota has an area featuring its latest passenger cars and trucks. Take an elevator up to the next level and you are immediately greeted with a replica of the nose cone of the Space Shuttle Endeavor -- the real spacecraft that a Toyota Tundra famously gave a lift to a museum in downtown Los Angeles in 2012. And winning Toyota race cars and race trucks hang from the ceiling. The Florida Hospital Injector at Daytona International Speedway Stand on a level high atop the grandstands, alongside the luxury corporate suites looking outward from the speedway and you can feel the breeze and see what's coming next. Across the street, tractors and bulldozers are working to build a massive mall and eatery, "One Daytona" for the next phase of the facility's modernization. It will include popular restaurants, a Bass Pro Shops store and famous hotels, plus – importantly -- ease of passage from sidetrack to race track. "As you walk through the stadium, you see the potential for anything," Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood said proudly, glancing across the street. "For us the goal is to continue to push the envelope. Yes, we're the world center of racing, but also the world center of entertainment is very doable." But what is most important to both the executives and definitely the fans is a one-of-a-kind, top-shelf experience at Daytona from thrilling racing on track to thrilling ways to watch the racing on track. The speedway is not only keeping up with the times, it's setting fast time. "Probably what makes me most proud is that the France family entrusted me with their most valuable property," Chitwood said. "Being around Lesa and Jim France and seeing the legacy that Bill France created in the 1950s, we have to live up to that. "This is the Daytona International Speedway and Big Bill built this place and we are not going to misstep. It has to be right. And I'm proud to say, I think we nailed it." WATCH: 'Untold Stories: Daytona'
Analysis: Major implications in SHR move to Ford
RELATED: SHR to switch to Ford in 2017 " Key moments in SHR history After the initial, "Wait … what?" reaction to Stewart-Haas Racing 's monumental announcement that brought a ruckus to an otherwise tranquil Wednesday in the NASCAR news cycle, the questions of how, why and what now persist. Around this time next year, SHR will be completing Daytona's Speedweeks with a four-car flotilla of Fords crossing the start/finish line in the Great American Race. It's a staggering visual for a team that has been in the General Motors fold for its lifetime, and a driver/co-owner with even deeper Chevrolet ties. RELATED: Stewart talks SHR switch, plans for 2017 The answer to how became clearer Wednesday, with Stewart himself describing the timetable that went from simple conversation to a much more accelerated negotiation process in a six-month span. It's clear from Stewart's fond words for Chevrolet that the bowtie that had adorned his cars for most of his NASCAR career wasn't easily loosened, but the passion from each side stoked more passion from the other until the talks took a page from Ford's slogan book to "go further." The other how -- as in how a development with such high-stakes ramifications for the sport stayed under wraps for so long -- may never be fully answered. For all of the "worst-kept secrets" that play out as expected in such a loose-lipped industry, this was a true undercover operation. Answering the why is like peeling apart a genetically altered onion engineered to have more layers than normal. The telling quote from Wednesday's 30-minute teleconference was Stewart speaking about the opportunity to "get out of the shadows and, to some degree, get off the coattails" of Hendrick Motorsports and be more of its own entity under the Ford umbrella. The move will bring Stewart-Haas into a relationship with Roush-Yates as an engine supplier, but the organization will now have the freedom to develop its own chassis. Doing things his own way -- much like his hero A.J . Foyt before him -- has always been an endearing Stewart attribute. For a driver/owner who has always operated like a devil-may-care horse that shuns fences, the Ford deal offers incentive that reaches beyond whatever undisclosed financial motivation was part of the agreement. RELATED: Patrick reacts to SHR move to Ford The "what now" part may not be fully answered until Stewart-Haas Racing puts four new-nosed Fusions on the track at Daytona next February. The approaching transition has ripples that affect all three manufacturers, chassis and engine partners, plus several affiliated teams -- all of whom have their own answers to the "why." Whither Hendrick Motorsports , which will be without one of its best customers for engines and chassis next season and which will continue to offer support through this year? And what of Roush-Yates, which will now need to ramp up production for a new four-car outfit with newly formed bonds to the blue oval? And what happens to the manufacturer balance of power once Ford evens the playing field in car count alone with Chevrolet if not also performance with Chevy and Toyota alike? With both Stewart and Haas relaying reluctance to speak about the move for the rest of the season, the proof may be in that performance 11-plus months from now, rivaling Wednesday's news as the best-kept secret in the NASCAR garage.
NMPA names 2016 Hall of Fame inductees
DARLINGTON, S.C. (Dec. 14, 2015) -- Three of the most legendary names in motorsports have been selected for induction into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame. NASCAR multi-championship team owners Rick Hendrick and Joe Gibbs, along with four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time IndyCar champion driver Al Unser, make up the 2016 NMPA Hall of Fame induction class. The three motorsports giants will be officially inducted on January 16, 2016, at the Embassy Suites in Concord, North Carolina. • Born in 1949, Joseph Riddick "Rick" Hendrick III was raised on the family farm near Palmer Springs, Virginia. At 27, he was the youngest Chevrolet dealer in the U.S., and built an empire that has grown into the sixth-largest automotive group in the country. But it is in NASCAR where Hendrick and his Hendrick Motorsports organization have made the biggest impact. Since its first race in the 1984 Daytona 500 (finished eighth) and its first win seven races later by Geoff Bodine at Martinsville Speedway , Hendrick Motorsports has amassed countless NASCAR records in its 32-year existence. Among the most notable: 14 NASCAR driver championships, including 11 in the premier Sprint Cup Series and 14 owner championships across three national series. "I have such great respect for the people who cover our sport and the role they play in keeping our fans informed," Hendrick said upon learning of his selection by NMPA members. "The NMPA has done so much to give back to the NASCAR community and highlight people’s contributions through programs like The Myers Brothers Award and Driver of the Year. It takes a lot of commitment and sacrifice to do what our media members do every week. To be recognized by that group of people is very humbling." • Known simply as "Coach" -- even his wife and children call him that -- Joe Jackson Gibbs' eye for talent and the ability to mold individuals into champions has made him a legendary team builder in both the National Football League and NASCAR. In 16 seasons as an NFL head coach, the Mocksville, North Carolina, native compiled an overall record of 171-101 and three Super Bowl championships. In 23 seasons as a NASCAR team owner, Gibbs’ teams have won four Sprint Cup championships, including the 2015 title with Kyle Busch , and 128 Sprint Cup race wins. JGR has also compiled four XFINITY Series owner (and one driver) championships and 112 race wins. Gibbs also owned a team that won two NHRA Pro Stock drag racing championships, as well as two runner-up season finishes in Top Fuel in the 1990s. • The Unser family has long been synonymous with open-wheel racing, from Jerry to Bobby, Robby, Johnny and Al Jr. But no one ranks higher on the family tree of racing success than Al Unser. The Albuquerque, New Mexico, native enjoyed a career that most racers only dream about, including being one of only three drivers (others are A.J . Foyt and Rick Mears) to win the legendary Indianapolis 500 four separate times. Unser drove for some of the most notable teams in the open-wheel world including Penske, Foyt and Granatelli, and is the only driver to have both a brother (Bobby) and son (Al Jr.) as fellow Indy 500 champions. In 337 career Indy Car starts, he earned 40 wins, 127 podiums, 29 poles and three championships. He even dipped his toe into NASCAR, with three top-10 finishes in just five starts. No matter what he was called, be it "Big Al" or "Al Sr.", one phrase will always offer the best description: "A racer's racer." Hendrick received 88 percent of votes cast by NMPA members, Gibbs received 76 percent and Unser received 66 percent. Others receiving votes were four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time IndyCar champ Rick Mears, as well as NASCAR Winston Cup championship-winning crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine. The NMPA Hall of Fame is located on the grounds of Darlington Raceway and has been in operation since 1965. Hendrick, Gibbs and Unser become the 96th through 98th members of the Hall.
From past to present, rookie challenges change
See how the rookie meeting has evolved over the years RELATED: Labonte's crash still impacts rookies " Youngest, oldest rookie winners One by one, before the first engine has fired and the first car has hit the track, they gather in the NASCAR hauler parked inside the garage. It's a scene repeated every weekend when NASCAR rolls into town. Their levels of experience often differ quite a bit. There are champions and those with numerous starts in lower series seated alongside those with limited experience and much less success. Yet here everyone is treated the same. And everyone carries the same label -- rookie. • • • "A lot of stuff happens fast here," Richard Buck, NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series managing director, tells the group that's gathered on a cool, damp Friday morning at Martinsville Speedway . Each driver has been given several sheets of paper showing diagrams that include the placement of timing and commitment lines, pit entrance and exit and the proper route to enter and exit pit road from the garage area. It's information that is track-specific. While the basic processes that take place during any given race weekend are relatively the same, there are certain details at each venue that those with limited experience need to know. Proper procedures are explained and advice is doled out. "Use your hand signals so you don't start to slow down and get all jammed up and have somebody's radiator in your backseat," Buck tells the drivers. Each week, a veteran driver will also attend the meetings to offer pointers and answer any questions a rookie driver might have. At Martinsville, 2004 premier series champion Kurt Busch was on hand. "Those of you that have made laps around here before, you know how quick it is," Busch said of the series' shortest venue. "It's an awkward track. There's no other place that really compares to this. So the thing you have to do is to get comfortable with the surroundings." Busch said he would often walk around tracks "even if I've been here before" to reinforce the information given during the meeting. "Have your spotters communicate to you where the holes are when you pull out ... your tires will be ice cold here ... they won't help you do much turning when you get into (Turns) 3 and 4 ... but if you're consciously making an effort to warm up your tires, somebody's going to be right on your bumper and it's going to be chaos," he said. Busch also urged them to take note of the commitment and blend lines at Martinsville. "It's the same Turn 2 line that's painted at Bristol," he said later. "But at Bristol, you have two pit roads (one on the frontstretch and one on the backstretch). It's the same line in the same place and it means two different things." Drivers' left-side tires must touch the blend line near Turn 2 at Martinsville before pulling up onto the track. A similar line at Bristol signifies the pit entrance on the backstretch -- touching any portion of it without proceeding onto pit road will result in a commitment line violation. "Now they'll go to Bristol (in two weeks)," Busch said, "and they need to remember." • • • So what constitutes a rookie in the eyes of NASCAR? In most cases, it's up to the discretion of the series director and is based on the individual's prior experience. Matt DiBenedetto , 23, made his first Sprint Cup Series start this year after running the bulk of the races (29 of 33) in the XFINITY Series last season. Brett Moffitt , 22, made seven Sprint Cup Series starts in 2014. Between 2009 and 2013 he made just one XFINITY Series start and two in the Camping World Truck Series. Both are among those competing for this year's Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in Sprint Cup , along with Jeb Burton , Tanner Berryhill and Alex Kennedy . To be eligible for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award, a driver must attempt to qualify in at least eight of the first 20 points races. A 10-1 point system, separate from the NASCAR championship driver points format, is used for scoring rookies in each race. The highest finishing rookie receives 10 points, second highest receives nine, etc. Only the top 17 finishes by each driver count toward his or her points total at the end of the year. Bonus points are also awarded for attempts, finishing inside the top 10 and upon the completion of the final race of the season. A panel then grades each rookie on conduct with officials, conduct and awareness on the track, personal appearance and relationship with the media. Points awarded by the panel are then averaged and added to each driver's total, and the driver with the most points is the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award recipient. Jeb Burton is one of five rookies this year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. • • • Of course, it wasn't always that way. In 1959, Darlington Raceway , in conjunction with sponsor Pure Oil (later to become Union 76), debuted the Darlington Record Club. Members were those that had qualified highest for each auto manufacturer during time trials for the annual Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway . Special recognition went to those that established track records there as well. While NASCAR had been selecting a rookie of the year for nearly a decade -- Rocky Mount, North Carolina's Blackie Pitt was the first recipient in 1954 –- the Union 76/Darlington Record Club was eventually tasked with monitoring the progress of rookie drivers on the uniquely shaped, treacherous 1.366-mile track. What began as an effort between driver Glenn "Fireball" Roberts and NASCAR official John Bruner Sr., to observe new drivers eventually evolved into a panel of Record Club members whose job was to either pass or fail those drivers attempt to make their Southern 500 debuts. (It's worth noting that the club also played a crucial role in requiring all drivers to complete a physical examination before being allowed to compete at Darlington. Today, a physical examination is mandatory for all three national series prior to the start of each season.) Before the Record Club came into existence, "you just went down there and run," said NASCAR Hall of Fame member Richard Petty, a seven-time NASCAR premier series champion and winner of the 1967 Southern 500. "(The Record Club) was good public relations. It gave those (rookies) something they had to do. Indianapolis (home of the Indianapolis 500) always had a rookie test you had to pass before you could go out and run. Well, we said if they can do it, we can do it, too. "Back then, (Darlington) was a one-groove track through (Turns) 3 and 4, which is now 1-2. We'd explain what you had to do to pass people or let people pass you. Then you just said, 'OK, now go out and run.' " To pass the test, drivers new to the series were required to run within a percentage of a pre-determined speed. "If we were running 130 mph," Petty said, "they would have to run 125 or something like that. Then they'd go out and run six or eight laps on the track by themselves." "It was a little easier to show up at Daytona with a car even though you may not have that much experience and get in the race," three-time series champion and NASCAR Hall of Fame member Darrell Waltrip said. "But they really observed you. If you were somebody new that they didn't know and you showed up at the track, they'd have some drivers that would kind of see how you did, see if you could handle the track and the speed and all that. There was always somebody watching you, but Darlington was the only official test we took." The panel would make its recommendations to NASCAR, but it was up to Bruner, a former flagman who eventually became Chief Steward for the sanctioning body, to make the final call. Richard Petty, who won the Southern 500 in 1967, used to show rookies the ropes at the iconic track. • • • In 1976, the Record Club's competition panel began overseeing the rookie program. Nearly a decade later, one of racing's greatest figures found himself labeled a rookie, and was required to go through the orientation process. Far from being a rookie, Anthony Joseph Foyt , better known simply as A.J ., already had seven NASCAR premier series wins to his credit including a victory in the 1972 Daytona 500 . But Foyt , a four-time winner of the Indy 500 as well, had never raced at Darlington. "I am going to Darlington as a bonafide rookie. I don't want anything waived," Foyt told the press prior to his debut. "Why should I be different than anybody else? I know a lot of guys would have too much pride and ego to take the rookie test, but I'm not that type of person." NASCAR driver Ricky Rudd was the president of the Record Club at that time. Among the members of the competition panel were fellow drivers Waltrip and Buddy Baker. "Buddy and I and I forget who else, we observed A.J . Foyt and we flunked him his first day," Waltrip said. "Well, we told him we flunked him. "I told Buddy, I said 'Go down there and tell A.J . that we're going to have to have a meeting about his test because I'm not sure he passed.' Buddy looked at me and said 'Do you think I'm crazy? You go down there and tell him.' " Foyt passed the test, eventually finishing 25th in his only Southern 500 start. • • • Ken Schrader , a four-time race winner in NASCAR's premier series, was in that same rookie class with Foyt in 1985. Schrader posted three top-10 finishes that year en route to winning the Rookie of the Year title, beating out Eddie Bierschwale and Don Hume. Twice he served as president of the Record Club. "Yeah, I got elected president one time, then got elected president another time because at the banquet in Darlington I sat in the back and drank with the wrong group," the fun-loving Schrader said. "I was sitting with, I think, Phil Holmer and T. Wayne (Robertson) and some Unocal folks." Holmer was a Goodyear representative while Robertson headed up series sponsor R.J. Reynolds sports marketing arm. "They threw my ass right in," Schrader said of his election. "My acceptance speed, I stood up and said 'This is (expletive)!' "But the rookie meetings were neat. We'd just go in there, talk about the do's and don'ts for the tracks. Some of it was repetitious obviously but then there was so much about each individual track and it was the first time that some of those guys went to those tracks. Because back then not everybody then came through the Truck or ( XFINITY ) Series. "Now, hell, you're a rookie at a race, you've been to how many places (already)? You've probably raced there in some other series. "So it's a little different now." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
The 'Smoke' we used to know makes a reappearance
RELATED: Stewart through the years Watching Tony Stewart as he announced his plans to step out of full-time NASCAR competition in 2017 reminded me a whole lot of the Tony Stewart I first met in 1996 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway , a driver who always made the racing beat a little more interesting and lot more entertaining for the last two decades. On the track and off it. Stewart, 44, was cutting up, smiling and relaxed Wednesday afternoon sharing his news and holding court in front of a room of reporters -- easing at times, but sincere and authentic. His larger-than-life persona has always been in proportion with his talent. Like a lot of people, I have mixed emotions about not watching him race every week, but they are trumped by the idea that Stewart could now exhale and be at peace. He seems very much so. And he deserves it. I'd spoken with him in previous months about the possibility of his "don't call it retirement." He bounced the idea off plenty of people and admitted that most tried to talk him out of it. I noticed that Stewart was especially chipper last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway , and after the race was feisty like I had long known him to be. He was smiling a lot more. There was a definite good vibe. Clearly, he was ready to make this career-impacting announcement -- to move on, not aside. RELATED: Stewart: 'Deep down you know when it's time' It's the rare exception that a racing driver possesses the talent of his heroes, and in Stewart's case, he also shares a good bit of their personality. He loved racing against Dale Earnhardt, who loved racing against Tony Stewart . And he took A.J . Foyt's famed No. 14 for his own Chevy when he moved to Stewart-Haas Racing . Stewart is deservedly and fittingly compared to those two legends in his racing accomplishments, and in what has become a time of polish, politeness and political correctness, there will probably not be another so similar out of the driver's seat, either. Sometimes, Stewart's temperament -- the sarcastic interviews or the pit road confrontations -- diverted our appreciation for what a remarkable racer he is. RELATED: Statement from Brian France on Stewart Stewart is still the only driver to win an IndyCar championship (1997) and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles (2002, 2005, 2011). He was the first to win three USAC national titles (Midget, Sprint Car and Silver Crown) in one season (1996) and his results in racing's Memorial Day "Double" (ninth in Indy 500 and fourth in Coca-Cola 600 ) are unmatched. Everything you need to know about Stewart's drive was evident in his 2011 Sprint Cup championship run when after going winless during the regular season he won five of the last 10 races -- including the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway -- to claim his third title trophy in a tiebreaker over Carl Edwards . He promises a similarly motivated final season in 2016 with a Daytona 500 and Southern 500 trophy still on his to-do list. "I've been very fortunate to do what I've loved to do for 37 years up to this point, and next year it will be 38 and there's no period on it at the end of next year," Stewart said this week. "It's just a little change. I still plan on adding stats for years to come after 2016." Asked about his legacy, which surely includes a NASCAR Hall of Fame induction, Stewart was more reflective, even philosophic. RELATED: Quotes from Stewart's retirement announcement "I really haven't thought about it, to be honest because to me at the end of the day I'm happy with who I am,'' he said. "I look at myself in the mirror and I'm comfortable with who I am and what I've done and the path that I've been down." And who could ask for more than that? "I think everything that's happened in my life has happened for a reason,'' Stewart said. "I think there's things that I would have skipped in my life and things that have not happened, but I think everything in the big picture has happened for a reason and is part of something that's a lot bigger than what we are this room."
Stewart to retire from Sprint Cup Series after 2016
RELATED: Photos of Stewart through the years " Bowyer tabbed as replacement Three-time premier series champion Tony Stewart smiled and conceded it was a "formality at this point" in announcing Wednesday afternoon that he would step away from full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition following the 2016 season. "It was a choice that is 100 percent mine, no pressure from anybody," Stewart said of his decision not to compete full-time anymore. "If anything, it's been the opposite, more people trying to talk me out of it. "Everyone in their career makes a decision when it's time for a change. I think deep down you know when it's time to do something different and make a change like this." Appearing jovial and without a hint of second-thought about his career decision, Stewart joked he was bringing Harry Gant out of retirement to drive the the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevy in 2017, then confirmed that actually Clint Bowyer would be taking over his seat. The news confirmed months of speculation and rumor about Stewart's future and solidified Bowyer's career path as well with Bowyer's Michael Waltrip Racing team closing operations at the end of 2015. "It's all about people, all about culture for me, and I don't think the fit factor could be any better," said Bowyer, acknowledging the SHR ride was "one of the biggest powerhouses in the sport" and said an announcement is coming later this week about his 2016 plans. Wednesday was clearly more about "the people's champion" as Stewart is often referred. One of the most popular and accomplished champions to ever compete in NASCAR's marquee series, Stewart, 44, has won three premier series titles as a driver (2002, 2005, 2011) and two as an owner (2011, 2014), accumulated 48 victories and won over countless hearts as a kind of extreme throw-back talent garnering comparisons to racing's all-time greats such as A.J . Foyt and Dale Earnhardt. Quite simply, Stewart won in every car he drove. And NASCAR fans always appreciated that about the driver known by his nickname, "Smoke." RELATED: Drivers react to Stewart's announcement Stewart won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in 15 straight seasons from his 1999 rookie year through 2013, and he has 11 NASCAR XFINITY Series wins in 94 starts -- roughly winning once every 10 times he tried. He won twice in six NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts and had five top-10 finishes. "When I think of Tony Stewart , unmatched passion and a pure love of the sport come to mind," NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said in a release. "He has won championships and millions of fans. But he has given back so much more, and that's what I admire most. Today's news was bittersweet for all, but we know Tony will continue to be a big part of our sport in his roles as a team and track owner. On behalf of the entire NASCAR family, I thank Tony for his many years of excellence and competitiveness, and wish him nothing but the best in his final season as a driver in the Sprint Cup Series." The 1997 IndyCar champion -- and 1996 Indy 500 Rookie of the Race -- proved his mettle against motorsports' best drivers, winning four times in IROC competition, earning the 2006 IROC championship and finishing runner-up in 2001. In 1999 he completed racing's Memorial Day "Double," finishing ninth in the Indianapolis 500 and fourth in NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 later that same day in North Carolina. Stewart was the first driver in history to win all three major United States Auto Club national championships -- Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown -- in a single season. So after essentially four decades behind the wheel fulltime, Stewart said he contemplated this decision for a while and said this week, he is completely at peace. "I've learned a lot about myself," Stewart said. You run through the range of emotions. There's days you're like, I can't wait, and then there's days that are like, man, do I ‑‑ you battle back and forth. "I'm not leaving the sport I love. I'm not walking away from something I'm passionate about, I'm just changing roles, which it's like just moving to a different position in a company. "I'm not really retiring, I'm just changing positions." RELATED: Best quotes from Stewart's press conference It's been an admittedly uphill climb for the champ after the last three seasons of horrible injury and extreme heartbreak. He missed the last 15 races in the 2013 season after suffering a compound leg fracture while competing in a sprint car race. Then last year, while still mending from that injury, Stewart was involved in another sprint car accident. This time, another competitor, Kevin Ward Jr., was killed when, after approaching Stewart's car on track during a caution period, the car struck Ward. Stewart sat out three Sprint Cup races immediately after. No criminal charges were found to be justified against Stewart; the Ward family filed a civil lawsuit against him a year later. On Wednesday Stewart stressed that his decision to stop driving in the Cup series full-time had "zero percent to with (the Ward situation)" and that physically, "my leg feels fine, there's nothing wrong with my leg." He said he may even compete in Sprint cars again. He listed the Rolex 24 at Daytona as a possibility and mentioned racing modifieds and making sporadic starts in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series -- all things he plans to do without the stress and full schedule of racing full-time in the Sprint Cup ranks. RELATED: Tony talks toll on leg, life In the past two seasons, Stewart has struggled to post the kind of top-shelf results both he and his fans had grown accustomed to seeing. But he has consistently insisted that was more to do with the current rules package than his off-track distractions. He said earlier this year that NASCAR's new high downforce, low horsepower car does not suit his style and is actually "the opposite of everything I've ever driven. "It's like I'm in the middle of a calculus equation and I didn't take pre-calculus,'' Stewart told NASCAR.com this May. He is currently 25th in the Sprint Cup Series driver standings with a sub-standard two top-10 finishes in his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet this year. But he was adamant that he would not be coasting in his final season and that this decision was not "performance based." Stepping away from his NASCAR driving duties, Stewart's focus shifts to running his beloved Eldora Speedway in Ohio and to being a team owner. His resume out of the car is already as impressive as his work behind the steering wheel. "It's just time to do what we're doing," Stewart said. "I still fully anticipate we're going to get things turned around. If I didn't feel that way, I wouldn't waste my time next year for anybody. I'm not a guy that's going to get in a car and ride. We're full steam ahead. "We're going to keep working and try to win as many races as we can next year, and that goal is going to be ‑‑ when you guys get to February, go ahead and write this down, what our goals are for the year, we're going to try to win races, try to win the Daytona 500 , then the Brickyard 400, the Southern 500, and try to win a championship." Ultimately, stepping away from his NASCAR driving duties, Stewart's focus shifts to running his beloved Eldora Speedway in Ohio and to being a team owner. His effort out of the car is already as impressive as his work behind the steering wheel. His namesake Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team is the reigning Sprint Cup owner champion thanks to Kevin Harvick 's 2014 championship run, and two of his team's four drivers -- Harvick and Kurt Busch -- are in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . This summer Stewart collected his 10th Knoxville Nationals trophy in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series fielding a car for driver Donny Schatz, who has also delivered five World of Outlaw championships for Stewart. He has 23 national titles as a team owner. "I've won more car championships as an owner than a driver," Stewart said "I'm definitely as competitive as an owner as I am a driver. …That fire's still there and that's what makes this transition easier." While his success driving and fielding cars is partly responsible for Stewart's incredible popularity over the years, he is also one of the sport's most robust personalities. RELATED: 'Smoke' still the people's champion He's not afraid to express his displeasure at his competitors' blunders, and the other drivers have come to expect either face time or bumper time with him after on track run-ins. And Stewart's "no-fools" tolerance policy extends to the media covering his career. There are highlight reels devoted to showcasing him sparring with reporters in press conferences and on pit road -- his wit and sarcasm legendary with the media corps. He grinned broadly and warned the room of reporters on Wednesday that he will not follow the guide of four-time champ Jeff Gordon who has met with the press nearly every week during this -- his last -- year of NASCAR competition. "Let's establish this right now: I will not be coming to the media center every week to talk about it,'" Stewart said smiling and shaking his head. "You can save your gifts. I've got enough rocking chairs at home as it is. I bought those when I wanted to go sit on my own rocking chair. You don't have to give me one. "I'm content to go race and be around the racing community and the racing family and be around our fans," he continued. "They can just send me a note from the track president and say, hey, thank you, and that'll be sufficient for me. "I think it's been very fitting for Jeff [Gordon]. I don't think I'm worthy of that kind of admiration because I think Jeff has really done so much for the sport that nobody will ever be able to do again. I think that kind of celebration is reserved for somebody like Jeff." One thing Stewart has across the board is respect -- from his competitors, to the fans and to the media who will be watching closely to see how this next chapter in his career and life plays out. He gave a couple hints on Wednesday afternoon. When it's time to drop the green flag for the 2017 Daytona 500 – the first one run without Tony Stewart on the grid since 1999 – the champ says he hasn't figured out quite yet where he'll be, but spoke about one possibility. "I'll probably be on some fan's motor home on the back stretch promoting our sponsors," Stewart said laughing. "I have no idea where I'm supposed to be yet. I've got a whole year to figure that out."
#TBT: Stewart's 2005 Indianapolis triumph
'Smoke' after the emotional win: 'Today's been my entire life' Tony Stewart knew what the fans wanted. The Columbus, Indiana, native had just crossed the start-finish line to win the coveted 2005 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his first win at his hometown track. A roar from full grandstands greeted him, chanting "Tony! Tony!" in unison. And after a day like today, a jubilant Stewart wasn't one to disappoint. Following his victory lap around the storied race track, Stewart stopped just short of the flag stand where the iconic bricks lay, climbed out of his No. 20 Chevrolet and strode over to the catch fence. Then, "Smoke" -- along with his crew -- began to climb the catch fence, joining the fans in a long-awaited celebration. "I wish I could put into words," an exhausted but excited Stewart said after his fence climb, as he lay on the front stretch wall. "Today's been my entire life." Indianapolis was one of the races Stewart had circled on his schedule for quite some time. Not only was it his hometown track, but it was also a track where his hero -- driver A.J . Foyt -- had dominated with four Indianapolis 500 wins. Stewart's 2005 win at Indianapolis put him further ahead in the championship point standings and ultimately led to him earning the 2005 Cup championship. PHOTOS: See Cup drivers kiss the bricks But that would come later in the season. On that August day in 2005, it was all about Stewart, Indianapolis and a famous line of bricks.
Clint Bowyer to replace Tony Stewart in 2017
MORE: Stewart announces that 2016 will be final season in NASCAR's top series KANNAPOLIS, N.C. -- Stewart-Haas Racing unveiled Clint Bowyer as Tony Stewart 's successor Wednesday, shedding light on the plan to replace the three-time NASCAR premier-series champion upon his retirement at the end of next season. Bowyer said when it became evident that there was a vacancy at Stewart's No. 14 ride, he didn't hesitate. "They didn't have to call me," Bowyer said with his patented grin. Though the spotlight shone brightest Wednesday on Stewart, one of NASCAR's most popular drivers and a surefire bet for first-ballot induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Bowyer's piece of the puzzle provided an extra source of intrigue for the four-car organization's future. The news also provided Bowyer with an opportune landing place after rocky recent weeks with his current team, Michael Waltrip Racing . "I don't think I got fired; it just went away, and somehow you landed in a way better situation," Bowyer said to laughter in Wednesday's news conference at HaasF1's sprawling new headquarters. "Do you ever hear that term when you fall in a pile of cow manure and come out smelling like roses? That's exactly what this is for me." Bowyer's timetable for inheriting the No. 14 Chevrolet ride in 2017 includes a one-year gap in his driving duties. He shied away from giving specifics regarding his 2016 plans, despite speculation he would shift to the two-car HScott Motorsports outfit for a one-year stint in the interim. Bowyer hinted that next season's part of the equation could become clearer by this weekend at Dover International Speedway . "Yeah, there's going to be some more announcements later in the week as far as where we're going for next year," Bowyer said. "But for this announcement, why I'm here today is to announce the long‑term future plan for me." Stewart initially joked that his handpicked selection for the No. 14 Chevy was retired driver "Handsome" Harry Gant, the 75-year-old veteran whose last season in NASCAR was 1994. Besides a tongue-in-cheek comment about Gant's and Bowyer's common thread with "immaculate hair," Stewart applauded the team's newest driver, saying that his hero and friend -- racing legend A.J . Foyt -- would approve of the hire. "You know, everything in racing is timing, and the opportunity to get somebody like Clint Bowyer , I mean, that's when you know you seize the opportunity. We're probably going to have a hard time working together and communicating with each other. We probably won't have any fun racing," Stewart said with trademark sarcasm. "It's the right time, it's the right opportunity, and when somebody in a scenario like Clint's this year came about, you jump on those opportunities, and you know that timing is everything." In a compelling contrast, the details for Bowyer's future emerged as the fate of his campaign in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs simultaneously faced a crossroads just six miles away, where Michael Waltrip Racing was appealing P4-grade penalties against Bowyer's No. 15 team at the NASCAR Research & Development Center. RELATED: MWR penalty upheld in appeal Bowyer qualified for this year's Chase on the basis of his rank in the Sprint Cup driver standings, but the team opened with a thud in the Chicagoland opener. Penalties stemming from a pre-race infraction for improper track-bar and suspension mountings essentially negated the team's 19th-place finish, digging a large deficit in the opening three-race Challenger Round. The 25-point penalty was upheld Wednesday by a three-member panel, keeping Bowyer last in the 16-driver postseason field with bleak odds of advancing from the Chase's opening round this weekend at Dover International Speedway . The appeal is another tipping point in Bowyer's final days with MWR. The team announced Aug. 19 that it would shut its doors at the end of the season, granting Bowyer his release and freeing him to seek employment elsewhere. That freedom resulted in landing nicely on his feet, claiming what he called "one of the best rides ever in the history of the sport." "I mean, this is a champion's seat that I'm filling, so that being said, this is an unbelievable opportunity," Bowyer said. "Just like I said earlier, to think of that door opening, and holy cow, the timing couldn't have been any better for myself. Just somebody was looking after me." Bowyer has eight victories in NASCAR's premier series -- five with Richard Childress Racing , where he drove from 2006-2011, and three with Michael Waltrip Racing (2012-2015), all coming in his first year with the team. Bowyer's 2012 campaign remains his most successful with a second-place result in the final Sprint Cup standings. But besides the performance and accomplishments, Bowyer also brings an affable, cooperative element to the mix of personnel and personalities at Stewart-Haas. Though Bowyer said Wednesday that he would miss racing against Stewart -- his future boss, but also his friend -- he also looked forward to building chemistry in the next stage of his stock-car racing career. "That being said, damn, I'm glad that you decided to retire and open this seat up for me," Bowyer said to Stewart, "but you know, it's just all about people, it's all about culture for me, and I think the fit factor couldn't be any better."